Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday 29 June 2020

Miskatonic Monday #41: A Wealth of Knowledge

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.


Name: A Wealth of Knowledge

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Leith Brownlee
Setting: 1930s Miskatonic University 

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 1.22 MB eighteen-page, full-colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Somethings have a greater thirst for knowledge than you do. 
Plot Hook: When your need to find a book to pass an exam is greater then worrying about missing students and academia, are your priorities straight?
Plot Development: An impending examination, a better stocked new library, missing friends, an all too friendly librarian, and a deadly book depository.
Plot Support: A tight plot and a new Old One.


Easy to adapt to other periods
# Easy to set in Lovecraft Country
# Easy to add to a Miskatonic University campaign
# Straightforward plot 

Forewarns the danger of reading too much

Linear plot
# Needs a better edit
# No maps
# No illustrations
# No NPC write-ups
# Underdeveloped plot

# Easy to adapt to other settings
# Possible addition to a Miskatonic University campaign
Underdeveloped and linear

Sunday 28 June 2020

Your Loop Starter

As its title suggests, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is an introductory boxed set for Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was. Published by the Swedish publisher, Free League Publishing, this is the roleplaying game based on the paintings of Simon Stålenhag, in which young teenagers explore the Sweden of an alternate childhood. It is rural small-town Sweden, but one in which its streets, woods and fields, and skies and seas are populated by robots, gravitic tractors and freighters, strange sensor devices, and even creatures from the long past. To the inhabitants of this landscape, this is all perfectly normal—at least to the adults. To the children of this landscape, this technology is a thing of fascination, of wonderment, and of the strangeness that often only they can see. In Tales from the Loop, it is often this technology that is the cause of the adventures that the children—the player characters—will have away from their mundane lives at home and at school.

Specifically, Tales from the Loop is set on Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren, which lies to the west of Stockholm. This is the site of the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics—or ‘The Loop’—the world’s largest particle accelerator, constructed and run by the government agency, Riksenergi. In addition, the Iwasaka corporation of Japan has perfected self-balancing machines, leading to the deployment of robots in the military, security, industrial, and civilian sectors and these robots are employed throughout the Loop and its surrounds. Meanwhile, the skies are filled with ‘magnetrine vessels’, freighters and slow liners whose engines repel against the Earth’s magnetic field, an effect only possible in northern latitudes. There are notes detailing the particulars of life in Sweden in the 1980s, but the culture is radically different—especially in terms of its (almost Socialist) government—to that of the USA and so Tales from the Loop includes an American counterpart to The Loop, this time located under Boulder City in the Mojave Desert in Nevada, near the Hoover Dam. Here the particle accelerator is operated by the Department of Advanced Research into Technology and there is an extensive exchange programme in terms of personnel and knowledge between the staff of both ‘loops’. Similarly, the description of Boulder City and its Loop include plenty of notes on life in the 1980s and as much as the two cultures are different, there are plenty of similarities between the two.

Since its publication in 2017, Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the ’80s That Never Was has won many awards and Tales from the Loop itself has been developed into a television series to view on Amazon Prime . The Tales from the Loop Starter Set is released in time to coincide with the release of the television series and is designed introduce roleplayers to the world of the roleplaying game—whether they have watched the television series and want to try Tales from the Loop or are experienced roleplayers wanting to try something different. It comes with everything necessary for the Game Master to present—and both Game Master and players alike—to roleplay a mystery within the Loop over the course of an evening or two.

The Tales from the Loop Starter Set comes in a surprisingly sturdy box. Open up and the first thing you see is a set of Tales from the Loop dice—some ten in all, with the number six on each of them replaced with the symbol for Riksenergi, the Swedish government agency which built and ran the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics or ‘The Loop’. Underneath that is a double-sided map of the region around the Loop. Roughly A3 in size, this depicted the region of Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren on the main side, whilst on the other is marked the area around Boulder City, Nevada. The map is full colour and printed on thick paper. Below that there are five sheets, one for each of the five pre-generated player characters. Marked ‘Kid 1’ through ‘Kid 5’, they are again double-sided and include a Popular Kid, a Weirdo, a Jock, a Computer Geek, and a Bookworm. All five are part of the same gang and have connected relationships, and they have background and illustration on the front and the stats on the back. Like Tales from the Loop, they give suggestions which pertain to both the Swedish and the American Loops. Here this consists of names, so the player character Frederik is given the name Chad when playing in the American setting.

Lastly, there are two books in the Tales from the Loop Starter Set. These are the ‘Rules’ and ‘The Recycled Boy’ booklets. The former presents the game’s rules and explains how Tales from the Loop is played, and is marked, ‘Read This First’. The latter contains the scenario and is marked ‘For The Gamemaster Only’. The ‘Rules’ covers everything in four chapters—‘Welcome to the Loop’, ‘The Age of the Loop’, ‘The Kids’, and ‘Trouble’. The first of these, ‘Welcome to the Loop’, introduces the setting of Tales from the Loop and explains what roleplaying is. It does decent job and is backed up in the examples of play throughout the book. It also gives and explains the ‘Principles of the Loop’, essentially the six fundamental elements of the setting which set it apart from other roleplaying games. These are that ‘Your home town is full of strange and fantastic things’, ‘Everyday life is dull and unforgiving’, ‘Adults are out of reach and out of touch’, ‘The Land of the dangerous, but kids will not die’, ‘The game is played scene by scene’, and ‘The world is described collaboratively’. These nicely sum up the world of the Loop, that Kids will explore a world just outside their homes which is full of scientific marvels and mysteries, one that the Adults are unlikely to really appreciate, being wrapped up in their problems and dramas—problems and dramas which are likely to have an impact on the Kids on an ongoing basis. Although dangerous—the Kids can be robbed, beaten up, mocked, and so on, they cannot be killed (though they can be forced to leave the game due to trauma). The collaborative element of play means that not only can the Game Master set scenes, she can ask her players to do so too, and she can also ask the players to describe and add elements to the setting too. What this means is that Tales from the Loop is a game in which the story is played out together, some of the setting elements are worked out together as well.

 ‘The Age of the Loop’ describes the setting for the Swedish and the American Loops. As such, anyone familiar with the contents of Tales from the Loop will recognise the much shorter descriptions given here. Here though it sets the scene for the scenario to come rather than the full game, so is done in broader strokes. For anyone new to roleplaying or new to Tales from the Loop, perhaps what is interesting here are the cultural and political differences between Sweden and the U.S.A. Of the two, the Swedish Loop is the more interesting because it is different, the outlook and attitudes of its inhabitants presenting more of a roleplaying challenge because of the differences. Essentially, despite the presence of the Loop making many things different, the American Loop still feels too familiar from film and television, so too easy to fall into clichés.

The shortest chapter is ‘The Kids’. This describes what the various elements on the character sheets are—age, attributes, skills, Luck points, items, Drives, Problems, Pride, Relationships, and Conditions—and how they affect game play. Each Kid has four attributes—Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind—and each of these has three associated skills. Both are rated between one and five. Luck points are used to reroll dice and younger Kids have more Luck points than older Kids as they are simply luckier. Items can dice if appropriate to the situation, a Drive pushes a Kid to act and to investigate mysteries, a Problem is a personal thing related to a Kid’s home life and will get him into Trouble, Pride is what a Kid values and can get a Kid into Trouble as well as help him, and Relationships are between the other Kids in the gang as well as another NPC. So Dave or Isak might have the Drive of ‘I am fascinated by self-balancing machines, I’ve always wanted a robot of my own’, the Problem of ‘My parents are getting a divorce, but my dad hasn’t moved out yet’, and the Pride of ‘I know how that works’. Dave’s item might be an electronics toolkit. All of the various elements of a Kid are clearly explained and easy to understand.

Lastly, almost a third of the ‘Rules’ is devoted to the last chapter—‘Troubles’. This explains how the dice work and the dice pool mechanics in both Tales from the Loop and Tales from the Loop Starter Set. Known as the ‘Year Zero’ mechanics, dice pools are formed from a combination of a Kid’s attribute and appropriate skill, or just the latter if no skill applies. The player rolls the Tales from the Loop dice and if a six—or a Riksenergi symbol—comes up, the Kid succeeds. Failures can complicate situations or impose a Condition upon a Kid, like Upset or Exhausted, but a player can push a roll and get a reroll, though this is not without its consequences. Typically, only one Riksenergi symbol is needed for a Kid to succeed, but more challenging Trouble may require more. Sometimes extra successes can be used to add further narrative elements to play, such as to find out more information about a machine and its maker, not only beat a bully, but upset him, and so forth. Lastly, the ‘Troubles’ explains how the game’s skills work and give some bonus effects for those extra Successes.

‘The Recycled Boy’ is half the length of ‘Rules’ and contains the scenario of the same name. It presents a four or five scene mystery which can be played out in a session or two. Written to be run in either the Swedish or the American Loop, it concerns a fellow student at the pre-generated characters’ school who has begun acting oddly. Its plot feels suitably eighties, being too dissimilar to films of the period, though perhaps the title of the scenario might be a bit knowing. Either way, it is a good first scenario for Tales from the Loop, presenting a problem which can be best solved through roleplaying rather than other means and it would be easy for a Game Master to add it to her campaign.

Physically, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is well presented. Notably both books are presented on glossy paper rather than the matt paper of the Tales of the Loop core rulebook. The package as a whole does need a slight edit in places, but throughout, is illustrated with Simon Stålenhag’s fantastic artwork. Everything is of a high quality and presents an attractive product, especially if you have not looked at a roleplaying book before.

However, there is a problem with the Tales from the Loop Starter Set and it is very simple. There is just the one scenario. What this means is that there is not the easy, next step to take after playing ‘The Recycled Boy’. Now of course, there is the Tales of the Loop core rulebook and Our Friends the Machines & Other Mysteries, but another scenario would support the continued interest of the Game Master and her players more immediately rather than forcing them to cast around for their next scenario. As good as the scenario is in Tales from the Loop Starter Set, it is difficult not to compare it with other recent starter or beginner boxed sets and be somewhat disappointed because they offer more value for money. Similarly, if a gaming group already plays Tales from the Loop, then the Tales from the Loop Starter Set only provides the one scenario—though one which is only available in the Tales from the Loop Starter Set—and so does not offer as much value for money as it could. That said, it comes with another set of dice for the game and good maps of each Loops, as well as the scenario.

Yet the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is a solid, well-presented package. As an introduction to the alternate, fantastic world of Simon Stålenhag’s artwork and the roleplaying game based on it, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is enjoyably accessible and attractive, presenting a good first step into an eighties that never were.

Saturday 27 June 2020

1978: G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles—and so on, as the anniversaries come up. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.


Over the years, Dungeons & Dragons has returned again and again to face its tallest foe—the giants! Most recently Wizards of the Coast pitted adventurers against them in 2016’s Storm King’s Thunder, the sixth campaign for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, but their first appearance was in a trilogy of scenarios which began with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and continued with G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, before concluding with G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. The three would subsequently be collected as G1-2-3 Against the Giants, which itself would form the first three parts of the campaign that would be collected in 1986 as GDQ1–7 Queen of the Spiders. In 1999, these three modules would be reprinted as part of the Dungeons & Dragons Silver Anniversary Collectors Edition boxed set and more properly revisited in Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff. It would be followed in 2009 by Revenge of the Giants, the first ‘mega-adventure’ for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition, and then of course, in 2016 with Wizards of the Coast’s Storm King’s Thunder. For anyone interested in reading or running the series for themselves, G1-3 Against the Giants is available as a surprisingly inexpensive reprint.

Much of this history as well as critical response to both the individual dungeons and the collected G1-2-3 Against the Giants is detailed on Wikipedia. This is worth taking the time to read, so Reviews from R’lyeh recommends doing so before returning to this series of reviews. The ‘Giants Review’ series began with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, continued with G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and brings the original trilogy to a close with G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is a direct sequel to G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. In G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, the Player Characters were directed to investigate the recent attacks upon the  lands of the humans—nominally in the World of Greyhawk—by attacks by giants of various types. Against this unheard of occurrence the rulers of these lands hired the Player Characters to deal a lesson to the Hill Giants. In the course of the adventure, the party carried out a strike—and ‘strike’ is the right term—on the Hill Giant steading, because G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is nothing more than a commando raid upon a ‘military’ base. As well as discovering the presence of other giants at a feast held in their honour, what the Player Characters also discover is the scenario’s singular link to G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. It is both figuratively and actually a link, capable of transporting the party to the Glacial Rift of said second scenario. At the end of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the players characters find a similar link which gets them to Muspelheim, in front of the great obsidian valve-like doors of King Snurre’s halls which make up G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King.

From the outset, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is very different in terms of tone and presentation. The scenario is longer—at sixteen pages, double the length of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl—and presents three levels rather than two. It is also wrapped in a triple-gatefold cover than the double one of the previous two scenarios. Where G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl was fog and ice over bare rock, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King consists of a three hundred foot tall, smoking slag heap, its halls and rooms of black and brown worked rock, its special rooms of obsidian and black marble, all lit with torches, braziers, jets of natural gas, and even pools of molten lava. The inhabitants, predominately the Fire Giants, are warier and cannier, better reacting to intruders—more so if the player characters make multiple sorties into the halls. Notably though, unlike in the first parts of the trilogy where the big bosses are placed at the end of the scenario, the likelihood is that the player characters will encounter Snurre, the black-armoured, orange tusked and bewhiskered, bandy-legged, and ugly King of the Fire Giants, along with his bodyguards, very early on in the dungeon. They are literally found in the dungeon’s third room and a careful party could get inside and deal a mighty blow to the Fire Giants and their mysterious backers before anyone can react by killing King Snurre. That though, still leaves his even uglier and wartier wife, Frupy, and a lot of angry Fire Giants. On the other hand, the Fire Giants will react quickly to any intruders and the adventurers could find themselves forced to retreat very quickly. As with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, a handy bolthole is described at the beginning of the scenario should the player characters decide they need to beat a hasty retreat.

With what is essentially the ‘reception room’ upfront, the areas beyond are given over to communal and private quarters, barracks, storage, guest chambers, and the like. Amongst the more mundane locations, E. Gary Gygax gets to write some interesting set pieces. These include the eerie Hall of Dead Kings—the crypts of the Fire Giant Kings, a smithy heated by molten lava, a torture chamber, and the Temple of the Eye—actually in use as opposed to the strange temple all but abandoned below the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief—where the Drow conduct ceremonies to some unnamed elder god. Some of these encounters veer between incredibly deadly to deadly and silly, though are horrifically weird. The fact that the King’s Torturer can throw a player character into an iron maiden and slam the door shut—killing them instantly, and the Royal Headsman can lop of heads and limbs aplenty with little recourse from the player characters point to just how deadly the adventure is. The silly is the fact that G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King repeats the error of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl by shoving a very large and ancient Red Dragon atop a huge mound of coins and other treasures into a tiny cavern. This is compounded by the addition of an illusion of a Red Dragon in the adjacent, much larger cavern. It goes against the whole sense of naturalism which permeates the rest of the scenario.

The weird includes the Temple of the Eye and its priests’ quarters. The temple is all unease and a sense of foreboding, swirling lights, purple stone, rusty black mineral block altar, and malachite pillars, where the player characters’ meddling is likely to either kill them, send mad, enrage them, age them, and so on, or under the right—potentially terrible—circumstances grant them just what they need. The quarters of the Drow priests is protected by a Wall of Tentacles, a horrid spell which will reach out with tentacles and beaks to bite, abrade, and constrict those forbidden to pass through it.

The last and third level is entirely different. Rather than worked or polished stone, it consists of natural caverns and is populated by a range of monsters more suited to the environment—Ropers, Piercers, Lurkers, and the like—although in a relatively small area. However, it is currently occupied by a number of visiting forces. These include the Drow, divided between forces divided between Eclavdra and Nedylene, the latter and her forces not only stuck out of the way, but hemmed in by a group of Mind Flayers, also monitoring Drow activities near the service. Beyond the third level itself, a tunnel leads off into the depths... 

Then there are the Drow themselves—the existence of which is the big reveal in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. Famously, this is their first appearance in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and the end of the module includes their full write up as if they had been included in the Monster Manual. This feared, even infamous, Race of Dark Elves has continued to feature in Dungeons & Dragons ever since, but here they remain mysterious and intriguing. The contingent in and below the Hall of the Fire Giant King is led by the warrior-priestess Eclavdra, many of them wielding a new magic item, Rod of Tentacles

In terms of plot, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is rather hit and miss. There are links to the wider plot in the correspondence found in the Council Room, including instructions given to King Snurre by the mysterious ‘Eclavdra’ about bring together various other species, including Ogres, Orge-Magi, Cloud Giants, and other in readiness to attack the lands of civilised Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and so on. In these scrolls is the first mention of the ‘Drow’, the allies of—or rather the power directing the Giants. Perhaps one of the best links to the wider plot is that rooms in the Halls of the Fire Giant King are potentially put aside for the Frost Giant Jarl and his wife and Chief Nosnra and his wife—that is, if they survived the events of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl respectively. Its inclusion not only points to the wider involvement of the Hill Giants and the Frost Giants, it points to the effect that the player characters have had on the ongoing campaign. In other words, that both Hill Giant Nosnra and the Frost Giant Jarl and their respective wives are there because of the player characters. Another really nice touch is that Queen Frupy actually has a Potion of Giant Control for using on her husband, Snurre!

Yet in other places, plot within the scenario is either sorely underdeveloped or overused. Not once, not twice, but four times NPCs in the scenario are subject to ‘Curse your inevitable betrayal’ plot lines. There is Ombi, the Dwarf who was once Snurre’s slave, but is now his advisor; there are three Rakshasas—who even King Snurre distrusts, but who the player characters we are told, are sure to see as “…trusted friends and associates”; a Human female Thief, who will help out before running off with any loot she can—including that stolen from the player characters; and Boldo, King Snurre’s former lieutenant who will do anything to get back in his majesty’s good books despite having been locked up for his lack of deference. All four will eventually betray the player characters should they be prepared to befriend them, though the Dungeon Master will need to determine exactly who the Rakshasas look like and what they want as no advice is given to that end. Similarly, the Titan NPC who will ally with the player characters—and the only potential ally who not actually portray them—is left up to the Dungeon Master to develop in terms of personality and motivations.

However, what this does means is that there are much stronger roleplaying elements in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King than there are in the first two part parts of the trilogy. Most of this will be with the various traitorous NPCs already mentioned, of whom Obmi is the most notable given that he would appear again in E. Gary Gygax’s work on the World of Greyhawk as the ‘Hammer of Iuz’ and as a villain in Gygax’s Gord the Rogue novels. Then there is obvious rivalry between Eclavdra, the envoy to  the surface world from below, and Nedylene, the Drow sent to check up on her. Neither NPC is really developed and again, this is left up to the Dungeon Master to handle.

In terms of the overall plot, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King both delivers and disappoints. Yes, there is the big reveal about the power behind the hostile activities of the giants on the surface world—the Drow, and there is no denying the impact of that. However, no information is given and again, another tunnel or exit leads off to the next part of the campaign, which at this point feels like it should be complete with the publication and play through of G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. The next part is, of course, D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth and so it is actually far from being complete.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is rewarding in terms of the treasure that the player characters will be able to carry away from its halls and caverns. In comparison to their lesser brethren in the earlier modules, the Fire Giants are rich. Most carry gems about their person, but both King Snurre and Queen Frupy have much, much more. Some of this though, is locked up in vaults and even then, hidden. Often the player characters will find it challenging to uncover it, whilst getting back to the civilised presents a whole other set of problems...

For all that G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King describes the Fire Giants as being tough opponents, and able to cleverly react to the intrusion by the player characters, the advice on how they react is underwritten. With the Throne Room and both the quarters of King Snurre and Queen Frupy so close to the entrance of the hall, there is the possibility that either or both of them are killed early on in the player characters’ sorties into the Fire Giant lair. What happens then? How do the survivors react? Given that the purpose of the scenario for the player characters is as the module states, “…to slay fire giants and all who associate with them.”, why is there so little advice to help the Dungeon Master here? Now of course, this is an ‘Old School’ module and yes, that means that the Dungeon Master is left to decide these things for herself, and whilst that is intentional, it leaves the Dungeon Master with a lot of variables to work through when preparing the adventure.

Physically, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is again a slim booklet, but sixteen pages rather than eight. Again, the booklet is cramped, but E. Gary Gygax again packs in a lot of detail, especially in the descriptions of Queen Frupy, of King Snurre’s vaults, Ombi and his quarters, the Temple of the Eye, and so on. The maps are generally clear and benefit from being across three levels rather than two. Unfortunately, the artwork is mostly terrible. In fact, the best piece of artwork is Dave Trampier’s profile portrait of King Snurre himself.


G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King was published at a time when there were few magazines in which they could be reviewed. In many cases, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King would be reviewed when it was published in the collected G1-2-3 Against the Giants in 1981. For example, this is the version that Anders Swenson reviewed in Different Worlds Issue 20 (March 1982). He wrote of G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King that, “The fire giants live in a well-constructed dungeon complex inside a volcanic mountain. This is simply a tough nut for the adventurers - the giants are in a place constructed for defense where they can repel a sortie with secondary positions, impromptu barricades, and ambushes. The designer expects this to
be a running battle.

White Dwarf was the exception and managed to review the trilogy of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant ChiefG2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King together in Open Box in White Dwarf Issue No. 9. However, this did not mean that they were reviewing independently of each other, the late Don Turnbull concluding, “In summary, there are three D&D scenarios which have been very carefully planned in considerable detail, both individually and collectively; they have been presented in exemplary fashion and are fit to grace the collection of the most discerning. They require skill in play (which is right) but also require a party of high-level characters, and my one regret is that they were not aimed at parties more likely to be readily available to players (though, in fairness, you can't expect a weak party to take on gangs of Giants). No DM should be without them, for even if he never gets a chance to run them, they are a source of much excellent design advice.”

However, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King was reviewed separately in Space Gamer Number 44 (October, 1981) by Kurt Butterfield. He wrote that, “The scenario is well thought out and nicely detailed.  DMs will find some intriguing special instructions given for deviously playing several of the intelligent inhabitants of the dungeon. There’s also some useful and interesting information on the Drow (dark elves).” before continuing, “This is definitely not ab easy dungeon, and since the monsters are quite strong and numerous, players will often be hard put to survive. Many of the monsters could be left out and this would still have been a challenging adventure.” He concluded by writing, “I advise all DMs who are looking for an exciting, worthwhile adventure for their players to pick this one up. You wont be disappointed.”


G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King brings the ‘G’ series of adventures to a big, challenging finale—if not necessarily a conclusion. In comparison to G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, it is undeniably a better dungeon. Perhaps not quite as atmospheric, but better and more interesting in terms of individual locations, plotting, and roleplaying potential. Unfortunately, neither the plotting nor the roleplaying potential is as developed as it should be, that is, sufficiently enough to be helpful to the Dungeon Master, and ultimately, enough to explain the reasons for what is going on between the Drow and the Fire Giants. There is though a sense of scale and grandeur to G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, the enemies and big and tough, the halls are tall and eerie, and there is a sense of mystery to the place in uncovering just what is going on (as much as the module explains everything). Unlike G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the dungeon in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King does not feel as static, but much of what is going on is confined to individual locations rather than the whole complex and perhaps in as organised a place as the Hall of the Fire Giant King, the module could have done with a schedule of events to give some idea of what its various inhabitants are doing and when. Again, this something that is left up to the Dungeon Master to decide. 

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is a big, bruising, even brutal dungeon crawl. It will take clever gameplay and tactics upon the part of the players and their characters to survive, but just like G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl before it, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King needs a lot of input from the Dungeon Master to bring out the best of its details.


It should be noted that Wizards of the Coast collected and published G1 Steading of the Hill Giant ChiefG2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King as part of Tales from the Yawning Portal for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. It is a pity that Goodman Games would not have a chance to revisit, develop, and update the series as it did for B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands with Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands. Certainly there is some archival material in the early issues of Dragon magazine, such as the examination of these modules as tournament adventures in Dragon 19. In the meantime, the next review in the series will be of Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff.

Jonstown Jottings #22: GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

What is it?
GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is a short supplement for for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a five page, full colour, 9.71 MB PDF.

GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is decently presented and organised. It
needs a slight edit.

Where is it set?

Dragon Pass.

Who do you play?

Adventurers of all types who could come across curios, novelties, gewgaws, and the like.

What do you need?

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. It can also be run using the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure.

What do you get?
A single table with fifty entries.

GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is a short—a very short—supplement containing one table. On this table is listed fifty entries listing gewgaws and trinkets and curios and knickknacks that you could find amongst an NPC’s personal possessions. For example, “A bronze clasp, once belonging to the belt of a fierce Orlanthi fighter. It resembles the head of a trollkin.” or “Something which resembles a brass bracelet, but it is instead a decoration for the central horn of a triceratops domesticated by dragonewts.” Some of them are even ever so slightly magical, such as “A miniature wicker boat. When a copper Clack is put in it, a faint, illusory image of Jeset the Ferryman appears for a moment.”

Is it worth your time?
Yes. GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is an inexpensive way of adding verisimilitude to your RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha campaign.
No. GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is simply too expensive and does not offer enough value for money for what you get, plus the small details do not always matter.
Maybe. GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is expensive for what you get, but who knows what you might find packed away on that Issaries merchant caravan?

Friday 26 June 2020

Leagues of Gammerstangs

As the title suggests, Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is a supplement for use with both Leagues of Cthulhu, the supplement of Lovecraftian horror for use with Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! and its expansion, Leagues of Gothic Horror. Published by Triple Ace Games, it presents a guide and a gazetteer to the English county of Cumbria in the Late Victorian Era, not just the history and the geography, but the Mythos and the folklore, and more. Although it is not a comprehensive guide—being relatively short at just thirty-two pages—it presents more than enough information to bring a campaign to England’s North-West, whether a supernatural campaign for Leagues of Adventure or a Lovecraftian investigative horror campaign for Leagues of Cthulhu. In addition, what few stats there are for use with the Ubiquity system are easy to interpret and adapt to the system of the Game Master’s choice, whether that is Cthulhu by Gaslight for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, Trail of Cthulhu, or even Liminal.

(Note: ‘Gammerstang’ means awkward person in the local dialect.)

Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria details an area of the north of England, bordering Scotland, which is best known as the Lake District—for the lakes Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater, Buttermere, Grasmere, and many others, and as the home of the ‘Lake Poet School’ whose members included William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Since the Victorian period it has been primarily been seen as a tourist destination, but prior to that, it was a source of worked-flint, a frontier of the Roman Empire, a frontier region between England and Scotland, a rural backwater, and more recently, with the coming of the railways, an industrial centre. Yet in ages past, races of the Mythos like the Elder Things and the Fungi from the Yuggoth operated in the region, whilst with the coming of mankind, the Deep Ones migrate to the Cumbrian coast and begin interacting with them. The Celts brought worship of the Shub-Niggurath and avatars of Nyarlathotep to the region, whilst the Romans also imported the worship of dark gods from the far edges of their empire.

Now despite its title of Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria, the supplement actually describes not the county of Cumbria as it is today—which only dates from 1974—but rather Cumberland, Furness, and Westmoreland. (For ease of play, the supplement simply uses Cumbria.) It covers the region in three chapters. The first of these introduces the area and gives its history, geography, a guide to getting there and what to find when you do, the latter including cuisine, entertainment, policing, and so on. The inclusion of a guide to toponyms—Cumbrian place names, the local dialect, folk remedies, and general superstitions all add a pleasing degree of verisimilitude. In game terms, it suggests various Leagues of Adventure faculties to be found in the region, for example, the Anglers’ Club, Bath Club, Mariners’, and Society of Aquanauts share a clubhouse in Bowness-on-Windemere. (The presence of the latter a knowing nod—backed up by an even more of a nod in an adventure seed to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.)

The second chapter is the gazetteer and forms the heart of the supplement. It covers ancient sites, natural features, Roman sites, and settlements, many of which are accompanied by adventure seeds. Thus, the Castlerigg Stone Circle outside of Keswik, whose number of stones is said to be uncountable and at the centre of which is a firepit which when unearthed was a blob of “some dark unctuous sort of earth.” The adventure seed for this suggests that this was the remains of a Black Spawn of Tsathoggua. The natural features include the region’s various caves and lakes, the Roman sites of two major forts in the area, whilst the settlements cover its towns and villages, from Ashness Bridge and Aspatria to Whitehaven and Workington. It describes the Dacre family, a prominent Cumbrian family which in the past was split between its worship of Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath, and supports this with a new Bloodline for Leagues of Cthulhu. Tying back to the Lakeland poets and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a notable narcotic ‘Kendal Black Drop’ of the period, better enables users to enter the Dreamlands or simply opens them to the thoughts of the Great Old Ones…

The third chapter presents denizens of the region. They include lists of dignitaries—aristocrats, bureaucrats, clergymen, and Members of Parliament—all names which Game Masters and Keepers will want to research before bringing into their campaigns. The only famous person fully detailed is the bon vivant Earl Lonsdale, known as the ‘Yellow Earl’ for his favourite colour. This may or may not signify something… Lastly, the supplement details a cult, the Brotherhood of the Maimed King. Linked to Arthurian myth, this is horridly both fecund and bucolic and is the content in the book which is probably the easiest for the Game Master and the Keeper to develop into a scenario. 

Physically, Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is a plain affair. It is simply laid out, there are no illustrations, and there are no maps. The latter is more of an issue than the former, forcing even the most casual of readers to do some research to give context to places and features described in the text. That said, any good Game Master or Keeper will probably do more research if she is going to run a scenario or take her campaign to Cumbria, so maps are not as much of an issue as they could be. Still, it would have been nice if there had been one included.

Anyone coming to Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria expecting the Mythos to be running wild across the rolling hills, up and down the fells, along the long the deep valleys of the region, conspiracies of worshippers working to bring about some grand plan to end the world, will be disappointed. Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is not that supplement. It is broader in its over overview of the region, encompassing the supernatural as well as the Mythos, but layering it under folklore and myth and superstition. What manifestations of the Mythos there are in Cumbria are holdouts, relics from the ancient past, perhaps best left to linger and die off rather than arise again due to some meddling from all-too inquisitive Globetrotters or investigators. Anything in Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria will need some development upon the part of the Game Master or Keeper to turn into a full mystery, but is still worth keeping on the shelf as reference or just in case the Globetrotters or investigators feel like a holiday in Wordsworth country.

Monday 22 June 2020

Jonstown Jottings #21: Blue Moon, White Moon

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

What is it?
Blue Moon, White Moon is a short one-night (one session) scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a fifteen page, full colour, 9.71 MB PDF.

Blue Moon, White Moon is well presented and organised. Its NPC illustrations are excellent, but the scenario 
needs a slight edit.

Where is it set?

Dragon Pass, specifically Sartar, but it could be set anywhere where the rule or influence of the Lunar Empire has been felt.

Who do you play?

Adventurers with a few adventures under their belt with a prejudice against the Lunar Empire. The scenario may have more of an emotional impact if one of the player characters is a Lunar Tarshite. It may also be quite fun if a player character is an Issaries initiate.

What do you need?

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. It can also be run using the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure. Access to A Rough Guide to Glamour may provide further background and context, but is not needed to play Blue Moon, White Moon.

What do you get?
Blue Moon, White Moon is a short, simple scenario which presents the player characters with a physical and a moral challenge. In it, they encounter an Imperial assassin from the Lunar Empire. Fortunately, she is not after them, but is in fact on the run. The question is why, and then, what do the player characters do about or with her? By default, player characters in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha are from Dragon Pass and are likely to possess strong feelings towards the Lunar Empire. Blue Moon, White Moon is intended to test those prejudices and perhaps give them a slightly altered view of the Lunar Empire.

The other aspect to the scenario’s set-up is that the assassin has encountered some bandits. This is where the player characters enter the story—are they hunting the bandits, is the assassin hunting the bandits, is this a chance encounter, and so on? All of this will probably be resolved in the scenario’s first scene, the second scene will revolve around what the player characters decide to do about the assassin and the consequences of this decision. Although the scenario will involve some combat, this decision lies at the heart of Blue Moon, White Moon. Ideally, it should foster no little roleplaying at the table and despite the brevity of the scenario’s length, those consequences could continue to play out in a campaign for a while after.

The scenario is easy to set up, has only three NPCs which the Game Master will need to handle, and requires relatively little preparation. The simple set-up also means that the scenario could any time that the player characters are on the road or between other scenarios, and its short preparation time means that it could also be dropped into a campaign at as equally short a notice. Ultimately consisting of just two scenes, Blue Moon, White Moon is really all about the set-up, leaving the Game Master and her players to explore the consequences, the Game Master needing to adjust and adapt as normal.

Besides the three NPCs—only one of whom is actually a ‘villain’ (and as written, it is not who the player characters will think it is given their probable Passions)—the Game Master is given details of a new Occupation, the Blue Moon Assassin, one of the Lunar Emperor’s septet of personal protectors and executioners and two associated new Rune spells. These are likely for the use of these NPCs only, that is unless a player really, really wants to play an extremely challenging character.

Lastly, Blue Moon, White Moon would also work as a convention scenario. Especially for players with some experience of Glorantha.

One minor issue with Blue Moon, White Moon is that it shares a similar ‘Lunar woman in peril’ set-up as Jorthan’s Rescue Redux,* which was also designed to test the player characters’ prejudices towards the Lunar Empire. Of course, the actual set-up and scenario is otherwise entirely different, and the testing of the player characters’ prejudices is implicit rather than explicit. Nevertheless, the Game Master should be wary of running the two scenarios too closely together.

* Which in the interests of disclosure I did write.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Blue Moon, White Moon is an excellent scenario which will present the player characters with an interesting moral dilemma and test their passions. It is also quick to set up and add to a campaign. It is also written by John Wick.
No. Blue Moon, White Moon will be of little use to you if your campaign is not set anywhere near Sartar or you want nothing to do with the Lunar Empire.
Maybe. The Lunar Empire and its minions get everywhere, and one day your player characters might run into the ‘worst’ of them.

Sunday 21 June 2020

Readjusting Race

Dungeons & Dragons has a problem. From Dungeons & Dragons to Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, First Edition to Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, that problem has been one of Race. In Dungeons & Dragons, a player’s choice of Race has always what core special abilities his character has, what attribute bonuses, what training he has undertaken, through a common Alignment for that Race, what his outlook upon the world is, as well as in many cases, what the world’s outlook is of his Race is in general. So under the current version of the rules, a Dwarf will an increased Constitution of +2, a starting age of fifty, tend to be of Lawful Alignment, stand between four and five feet tall and weigh about one-hundred-and-fifty pounds, be of Medium Size and have a base walking speed of twenty-five feet, have Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience against poisons, Dwarven Combat Training with battleaxes, handaxes, light hammers, and warhammers, tool proficiency with either smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies, or mason’s tools, and Stonecunning, a proficiency bonus in things related to stone. This question is, is this a typical Dwarf? Are all Dwarves like this? If so, is this not a racial stereotype, and would a Dwarven scribe have proficiencies with different tools rather than either smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies, or mason’s tools? Might the Dwarf be trained in different skills depending upon where and among whom he grew up? What if he grew up in a Halfling village, would he be exactly the same as the rules say he should be?

Another problem with Dungeons & Dragons and race is why are there only Half-Orcs and Half-Elves? And why only with Humans? And why such characters with mixed parentage always seem to have difficulty with the Race of one of their parents—of not both? Then another problem with Dungeons & Dragons and race is a continuation of the Race as stereotype issue. That problem can be addressed by answering the question, “What is the point of Orcs?”. Author N.K. Jemisin’s answer is that, “Orcs are fruit of the poison vine that is human fear of “the Other”. In games like Dungeons & Dragons, orcs are a “fun” way to bring faceless savage dark hordes into a fantasy setting and then gleefully go genocidal on them.” By extension, this answer can be applied to the Drow too, but essentially the answer is that depicting Orcs, Half-Orcs, and Drow as evil and vile—and in the case of the first two, rapists and the victims of rape—is, well, racism.

Now if you disagree with those points or you do not think that such questions should be answered, or even asked, then this review is not for you. Nobody is going to come to your house and tell you that the way you play Dungeons & Dragons is wrong. It might not be how the designers intended Dungeons & Dragons to be played and it might not be what some parts of the Dungeons & Dragons community want to hear about the game being played. If so, then again, this review is not for you, and the book being reviewed, Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e, is not for you. Similarly, that does not mean that there are no reviews on Reviews from R’lyeh of interest to you. For example, here is a review of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl which was only published last week. However, if you are interested—whether with a sceptical or an open mind—in hearing about solutions to the problems that Dungeons & Dragons has with race and racism, then this review is for you. And if you think that Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, is right to address the issue, then this review is also for you.

Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e is published by Arcanist Press. It is a supplement for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition which offers solutions to both counter the problem of racism in the roleplaying game, options to enhance the diversity in the game, and a pair of scenarios which feature this diversity and have an emphasis on co-operation and roleplaying rather than on direct combat. The supplement begins by examining the problem, looking at where it originates from, and identifying how it exhibits in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. At its heart, the roleplaying game takes a number of elements, mixes them together, and packages together under the term, Race. Fundamentally, it packages elements which are genetic—Age, Size, Speed, Darkvision, and so on, together with those which due to upbringing—Ability increase values, Alignment, Tool Proficiencies, and the like. The solution that Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e offers is to take each ‘Race’ as defined in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and divide its  constituent parts into packages—or Traits—of their own. These Ancestral and Cultural Traits. So into the Ancestral Trait goes all of a species’ traits which would be inherited from their parents, that is, the simply biological elements such as Age, Size, Speed, Darkvision, and so on. This leaves learned or trained traits like Alignment, Languages, Proficiencies, Attribute bonuses, and so on, to go into the Cultural Trait. Thus, the Dwarven Ancestral Traits consist of Age, Size, Speed, Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience, and Dwarven Toughness, whereas the Dwarven Cultural Traits are made up of the Ability Score Increases—Constitution by two and Wisdom by one, Alignment, Dwarven Combat Training with battleaxes, handaxes, light hammers, and warhammers, tool proficiency with either smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies, or mason’s tools, and Stonecunning, a proficiency bonus in things related to stone, and the Dwarven language.

Now one of the issues with repackaging is where the Attribute bonuses go and it does look odd for them to be under the Cultural Trait and so suggest that they due to upbringing rather than innate, biological nature. After all, this is how it has been for the past forty years. The explanation is simple. The designers have moved away from the problematic concept that intelligence or strength is higher or lower in certain ethnic groups, a concept which underpins various aspects of racism. That said, as a player or a Dungeon Master there is nothing to stop you playing a Dwarf who was brought up among the Dwarven culture and combining the Dwarven Ancestral Trait and the Dwarven Cultural Trait to create a Dwarf in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. The division though, allows a couple of interesting options. Most obviously you could create a character with Diverse Cultural Traits, that is, a character of one species who was brought up in the culture of another, so a character with the Ancestral Trait of one species and the Cultural Trait of another. For example, a Halfling who was brought up amongst Dwarves or a Human who was bought up amongst the Elves—such as Aragon did in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The other is Mixed Ancestral Traits in which a character has one parent of one Ancestral Trait and one parent of another Ancestral Trait. So you could have a Tielfling-Elf or a Halfling-Dwarf or a Dragonborn-Human and Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e provides rules on how to do this.

In addition, Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e offers two appendices offering additional rules, options, and resources. These include further rejecting the essentialist nature of the Cultural Traits which still suggests that a member of any one culture will have the same traits, so someone who grew up amidst a Dwarven culture would always have high Constitution and Wisdom, a Lawful Alignment, Dwarven Combat Training, particular Tool Proficiencies, and Stonecunning. How then, would you do a Dwarven scribe or merchant or entertainer. Here Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e provides the means to create that by giving a player the choice in what Attributes to increase, Tool Proficiencies to select, and the like. The supplement actually gives the Ancestral Traits and Cultural Traits for the core species in the Player’s Handbook—Dragonborn, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Halfling, Human, Orc, and Tielfling, so that a gaming group can just slot that in the character creation process with ease. Of any other species, a second appendix suggests how they can be adapted to the new format of the Ancestral Traits and Cultural Traits.

Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e also includes two scenarios. Both are what the author calls ‘’An Ancestry and Culture Adventure’ and both are set in and around communities with diverse, mixed-heritage populations. Both are designed for a party of five Third Level characters, but advice is given to adjust as necessary for weaker or stronger parties. In ‘Light of Unity’, the player characters come across a village beset by a shadowy corruption emanating from a nearby forest where a team of archaeologists has recently gone. To get the best out of the scenario, the player characters need to interact with the villagers and learn more of what is going on before proceeding to the source of the mystery. The interactive and roleplaying elements of the scenario are its best feature because otherwise ‘Light of Unity’ still adheres to the well-worn ‘village in peril’ set-up. It does not mean that it is unplayable, but perhaps just familiar. The second scenario, however, ‘Helping Hands’ takes the set-up one step further. It has a village in peril, in fact ablaze, but not only has the player characters help with the fire and the ensuing panic, but has them deal with the consequences, going for help in neighbouring communities. What is so enjoyable about ‘Helping Hands’ is that the solutions to problems it poses to the player characters are do not rely upon combat, but investigation and interaction. This is not to say that there is no combat in the scenario, but the emphasis is not upon fighting.

Physically, Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e is well written and presented. The maps are clear, but the standout feature is the artwork—which is gorgeous. None of it is in colour, but the depictions of a Dwarf of Dwarf Ancestry and Elf Culture, of a character of Dwarven and Orcish Ancestry and Orcish Culture, and others are really quite lovely. 

If Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e is missing anything, it is perhaps that it does not explore what mixed cultures look like. It does what a character of mixed culture and heritage will look like, easily slotting into the Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition character creation process to do so, but not what a society and a culture might look. Of course, the scope for that would be enormous, but some advice might have been useful.

Ultimately, if you have an issue with either the questions raised by Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e or the solutions its offers, then the book is entirely optional. Bear in mind though, that Wizards of the Coast will be addressing them as the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and so the roleplaying game will be changing. And again, nothing is stopping you from ignoring those changes and adhering to the version that you like. However, what Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e is doing—and what Wizards of the Coast is going to do—is looking at Dungeons & Dragons from another perspective and asking difficult, uncomfortable questions about the game, and not only identifying problems with the game, but offering solutions. And even if you still want to play a Halfling who is a Halfling with both the Halfling Ancestral Trait and Cultural Trait or a Tielfling with both the Tielfling Ancestral Trait and Cultural Trait, you still can, but other players sat round the table might not want to, and Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e gives them options to mix and match the options that they want, to create the characters that they want. Plus, it is doing it without the stereotyping of the Race element in Dungeons & Dragons. It means that you can create characters who can still be interesting without being stereotypes or clichés and without being, well, racist—even if unintentionally.